When I walked away from college in 1987 with my degree in Creative Writing, I knew the industry was going to be brutal. I'd tried my hand at publishing a small literary magazine (very low budget and extremely low tech) and enjoyed it. But what I most wanted to do was write.
Life intervened and I spent years doing things other than writing. Good things like raising kids, helping run my husband's business, and running my own business. I learned valuable lessons, not the least of which was that I enjoyed running my own business.
Throughout those years, though, I stayed in contact with writers, reading drafts, encouraging, and watching many of them go on to success. I have a shelf of autographed books that I treasure.
But that shelf should have a lot more books on it than it does.
After one of my writer friends died, I explained the overwhelming sense of loss that I felt this way: I didn't just lose a friend. I lost a whole host of friends -- the imaginary characters that writer had created. I'd love to introduce you all to the Vampire DuLac -- one of the few vampire stories that I enjoy. But I can't. DuLac's story was never published. The handful of people who have read those stories will agree -- that loss was a tragedy. It was a small tragedy in the greater loss of a friend, but even more final than death in many ways, because I believe in the afterlife.
Of late, when people ask me what I intend to do with my novel, "Sisterhood", my answer has been, "I'm thinking."
Here's a good example of what I've been thinking about: a discussion between two writers. Skip over the sections that contain somewhat less than professional content. If you're a writer, I bet you've also been doing a lot of thinking. If you haven't...well, that conversation will make you think.
The publishing industry is in trouble. I think those two make some excellent points. In short, the establishment is not adjusting to the technological changes. Like certain major countries, they're trying to control their territory with repressive techniques, and the end result will likely be a revolt.
I loved the line, "if you are going to sell eggs, don't make your chickens angry."
There sure seem to be a lot of angry chickens around. I've watched brilliant writers revise excellent novels multiple times for agents that eventually turn them down. Or not. Maybe they get the representation they deserve. Some of them have gone on to be best sellers.
Meanwhile, many continue to work at their day jobs even after selling their novels. Let's face it: authors rarely make enough money to survive.
So a brilliant artist will produce fewer works in their lifetime than they might if they could make a living from writing.
If you've read my blog for a long time, you'll know I love the message taught by Ransomed Heart Ministries. A while back, Stasi Eldridge posted a blog entry that she ended with "I need a new book." For my non-Christian friends, you probably won't be amused by the blog entry any more than the Christians were interested in the er...dubious content of the conversation I linked to earlier. I'm an equal opportunity offender. When I read that blog by Stasi, it connected in my mind with a different heart-ache.
There are good books out there, brilliant writers, really productive angry chickens that do not stand a chance of getting published by "the big 6." Especially now that the big 6's empire is crumbling.
For a long time, I've been thinking.
You may be pointing out that these various bits and pieces don't obviously connect. Well, they will in a minute. Ransomed Heart is about restoring people's hearts. Many writers I've met have had their hearts not only broken, but stomped to smithereens by the industry. Then they are told, "You can always self-publish." As if that was a bad thing, a second-rate option. I've said I'd never self-publish, because my father did and the end product was horrific. His editor didn't point out obvious grammar mistakes. The binding was poor, the art tacky, the proof-reading non-existent. If that is what self-publishing is about, then count me out! (I once found my father's book referred to as "the worst book ever published.") Worse, the modern self-publishing industry throws authors into the mill of POD, ebooks, distribution, and marketing, expecting them to learn everything required to do it themselves. The rewards are high, but...again, at what cost to productivity?
So, I played with some of the formatting options. I found several areas that I knew would be immediate stops for some of my less-techie friends. There is no way I could say to them, "oh, just publish your book on Kindle!" when I know they will come into contact with the formatting directions that involve html tags. No, they aren't hard. But they ARE different than the way an author thinks, especially if they aren't technically minded. I've worked with a group of authors who post their short stories to an on-line editor. The majority panic whenever they see the html tags involved, because they don't want to spend their time playing tag.
A few years back, I started a web design company for writers called "Deleyna's Dynamic Designs". I had more work than I could do. I had to ask people NOT to refer their friends to me. I was forced to close the business not because it wasn't making money, but because it was complicating the bankruptcy caused by the destruction of my husband's industry.
I continued to work with a few authors, and finished my novel. A year after sending it out, I still have not signed it with an agent. I've gotten a lot of long silences, though. Apparently, that's a good sign. But looking at the industry and reviewing the market, I've decided not to play that game.
And so, I'm starting a new business that is a natural extension of what I did before. Heart Ally Books is an independent publishing company with a mission to restore the hearts of authors. No, it is not a Christian organization. I intend to publish both Christian and non-Christian works. I'm not sure how unique our pricing model is. Here's the low down: it is part vanity press, part traditional publishing, and a good smidgen of life-coach thrown in. There will be a fee to live in the chicken coop. My hope is that it won't be prohibitive. We're working out fee structure and talking with an attorney to make sure our contracts are in order and protect both us and the authors. Those fees include a website if the author doesn't already have one, and dealing with the technical details of getting the work published in a quality manner. From what I can tell, we'll be able to offer similar services to those offered by the major publishing houses, but spend more time with our authors developing their careers.
The first thing people ask me is, "will you publish everything people send you?" No. Sorry. I'm only going to work with authors who have a passion for their projects. If you just want to shove some un-edited garbage into print, there are abundant outlets for that. I've also decided not to publish horror or erotica. I don't enjoy reading them, so can not imagine investing the huge amount of my time into a project I do not enjoy. My energy would drain into the pages, leaving me without the joy and fight necessary to help others.
Once a work makes it to the end product (print, e-book, etc.), that is where our pricing becomes unique. I want the authors to maintain control of their work throughout the process, and I think the author deserves to reap the rewards. I'm reviewing -- we're reviewing, because I have a number of people helping me with my research -- options to maximize the profit from every piece sold. That profit will go to the author, with the publishing house keeping only 10% of the profit.
The reasoning for this structure is simple: my success is tied to the writer's. The writer's success is tied to the success of the project. We're all invested and we're all motivated to succeed.
Will we sell massive quantities of books? I'm not sure. But we only need to sell about 1/4 of what a major publisher would sell in order to keep the author's income the same as it is now. Less if the author is still struggling to get into print. As one of the up-and-coming authors I'm excited about said, "do you know how much money I'm spending trying to break in?"
The second question I get asked about this project is, "Can I tell my friends about this?"
As of this post, the answer is yes. You can begin spreading the word.